In a push to increase student voter turnout before city-wide elections Tuesday, Ann Arbor City Council members partnered with the University’s Chapter of College Democrats to host an event emphasizing the importance of civic participation Thursday.
Held in the Michigan Union, the event coincided with College Democrats’ Get Out The Vote campaign, an initiative that seeks to increase votership in the final days leading up to elections.
Council members and members of the College Democrats sought to inform students about candidates in advance of the upcoming elections as well as provide a platform for some council members to introduce potential plans for University and the city of Ann Arbor.
Public Policy senior Erin Bozek-Jarvis told attendees that when more people vote overall, it’s generally positive for Democrats.
“The reason why (Get Out The Vote) is so important, especially for Democrats, is because it’s our time to shine,” she said. “When voter turnout is high, Democrats win. That’s a proven fact. The good thing about being a Democrat is we have grassroots people power and (get out the vote) is where that shows the best.”
Echoing Jarvis’s comments, Washtenaw County Commissioner Yousef Rabhi, who also spoke at the event, shared an anecdote about how he won the election primaries for commissioner in 2010 by only one vote. Rabhi is currently a candidate for state representative.
Councilmember Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1), who has served on the council for five terms and is running uncontested to retain her seat, stressed that in addition to voting, it’s also important for students to contact elected representatives to voice their concerns.
“Your voice is really important,” she said. “If you don’t vote, the decisions that people make on your behalf may not be the decisions they want you to make. Your tasks as voters and as activists in the Democratic party is to make sure they hear from you.”
Ann Arbor resident Chip Smith, who is running uncontested for City Council in the 5th Ward but faces opposition from a write-in campaign from Kevin Leeser, a nurse at the University of Michigan Health System, cited housing affordability as a top issue in his campaign that was relevant to students.
Smith suggested housing costs led to many University students leaving Michigan after graduating.
“We are tired of seeing the best and brightest leaving the state,” he said. “I think it’s very important to figure out how to create an environment that invites you to participate, help shape the community you live in and gives you the option to stay.”
In an interview, College Democrats Chair Max Lerner, a Public Policy senior, said holding events like Thursday’s meeting is important in bridging the gap between students and politicians.
“Any time we can connect local leaders with students, we’re reducing that gap and creating an environment for more effective politics and more effective governance,” Lerner said.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Briere said she hopes students who attended the meeting left feeling more confident in themselves as voters.
“I hope they leave with a more positive sense of how important their involvement in local politics is, because the sexy stuff is all national politics, we know that,” she said. “Yet we don’t see how much difference one vote can make in national politics but we can really see it in local politics.”